Another Way to Launch a Review Unit

Groups collaborate to share their reasons to support their opinions. (Photo taken after the share session.)

Yesterday in Mr. Gause’s third grade class, some incredible thinking was happening. This week we launched into reviews. Earlier in the week, he asked students to test different toy cars and then select the one they thought was the best. Then they met as a group and talked about their choice.

Yesterday, during the minilesson, I taught kids:

To write reviews, we need three important things:

  1. A strong opinion about a product or place.
  2. Experience with the product or place.
  3. Reasons (“back-up”) to support our opinions.
They realized it’s not enough of reason to say their car is the best or awesome or cool. Everyone thinks that about their choice. They needed to find reasons that set their car apart from the rest.

Then they returned to the groups they were in the previous day to think through their reasons.

Before workshop, Dan and I met and talked about the possibility of giving each group chart paper to write a review together. We weren’t sure how it would work, so we decided to watch the groups and teach into their thinking.

No more than three minutes after breaking into groups, one group (of 5 boys) asked, “Can we write a review together?”

I tried to contain my shock. I shouldn’t be surprised , but I was. “Sure,” I said, “Do you want some chart paper to write it on so you can share it with everyone else?”

“Cool!” They unanimously agreed chart paper would be the best to write their review on.

Dan gave them paper. Another group thought it looked like a good idea to have chart paper, so they asked for a sheet too. Before we knew it all groups had chart paper.

We watched them collaborate. I had goosebumps.

No group was doing the exact same thing as another group. They all, however, were talking and thinking about the reasons that would support their opinions that their toy was the best of the bunch. It was collaboration at its finest.

Mr. Gause listening in as a group collaborates.

The group above is the original group to ask for chart paper, they then wrote a review together.

A group talks together, and then each writes his/her own review.

Another group divided their paper so each person could write his/her own review. It was interesting to watch this group because they talked the entire time, yet they were each writing independently.

Students used the mentor text to help think of reasons to use in their reviews.

We left a mentor text on the Smart Board as groups collaborated. It helped lift the level of their reasons, as well as the reviews they were writing. One group realized they left off their opinion at the start of the review, so they wrote it at the bottom of their chart paper, cut it off and taped it to the top (see below). When they were ready to end their review, they consulted the mentor text again.

Notice the different handwriting in this review. The group also revised by adding a lead sentence to include their opinion.

The final group took turns writing a reason at the top of their chart paper. Then they drew a line and began to write a review together.

These are some of the first steps into persuasive writing. The majority of students in the room have never written reviews or even considered them prior to this week. In order to position them to write well in this genre, we wanted to give students lots of opportunity to talk. In fact, it is our goal to float this unit on a sea of talk.

Monday they will begin writing reviews based on their own opinions about products and places of their choosing. (They didn’t start today because they are at the circus!) To scaffold students, we first gave them this experience to learn and dabble and even play with the concept of writing opinions.

Dan and I stood in awe as we watched these young writers work together to find their voices for this genre of writing. I’m looking forward to watching how the rest of the unit progresses since they’ve had this experience.

And just a little side note…

Dan’s classroom is the fourth third grade room I’ve launched the Review Unit in. I want to note that we launched it very differently than the other rooms. I think this is important to realize. I am ever changing the way I help young writers learn the craft, genre, process, and conventions of writing. I’m always asking: What do these kids need? How can they best understand these concepts? What’s another way to help them learn?

Because I’m grounded in my beliefs about teaching writers, I can alter the activities in order to reach young writers in the most effective way possible. The why behind what we do in workshop is just as important (maybe even more important) than the what. I’m excited to share this recap of writing workshop with you because I felt the students led the way — Dan and I supported their learning and nudged them into new learning about opinion writing. It’s not the activities that are important, but the thinking behind how this happened.